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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 10, 2007 11:22 AM. The previous post in this blog was Go, Larry, go!. The next post in this blog is Whole Foods scares off local competition. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Ignore the lies, enjoy the laughs

I can't believe how much taxpayer money the City of Portland is spending to campaign among the city's residents for a gas tax increase. If the issue were already on the ballot, I believe the city would be prohibited from selling it, but since there's no ballot measure, at least not yet, the high-priced propaganda just keeps rolling along.

We've already discussed here the infamous "City Transportation is in Crisis!" direct mail piece that we all got earlier this summer. Now comes a four-page spread tucked into the middle of the September edition of the Hollywood Star (or is that the Hollywood Star News?):

This is a full-color production, with maps, charts, graphs, photos, the whole works. And that's just for "Central Northeast Portland." I'll bet they produced a separate one of these for each neighborhood in the city -- particularly the middle two pages, which are quite neighborhood-specific.

In case you haven't come across one of these in your local paper yet, let me give the executive summary: Page 1 - Portland's transportation system is in crisis. Pages 2 and 3 - There are a lot of transportation improvements we could spend money on in your neighborhood, and we want your ideas for additional projects for streets around you. Page 4 - We need a gas tax increase or else, and we've got a "stakeholders committee" studying the situation. Come kill a bunch of your time at some meetings.

Before analyzing this fascinating tabloid sheet, let me state that I'm not against some additional pennies per gallon on the gas tax. The tax should have been indexed for inflation to begin with -- if not tied to the price of gas, then to consumer prices generally -- and jacking it up a little and indexing it permanently make sense to me.

But the sales job here is quite disingenuous, full of half truths (or half lies depending on your outlook on Commissioner Sam the Tram and Transportation Sue). I'm not much on "fisking" government documents, but there are several assertions in this document that deserve a rebuttal, if not a rebuke.

First things first, though. Let's enjoy the wonderful comic moments that this piece of advertising provides. You gotta love bureaucratic pronouncements like this one:

You don't say! I was thinking that there would be more crashes in low-collision areas. Obviously, I was not cut out for government work.

Next, our bridges are falling apart, but the only one we could come up with a picture of was one that we've already fixed, and in another part of town:

Rounding out the ha-ha highlights is the inevitable revelation that yes, everyone, the gas tax increase is for the children:

Aside from being hopelessly poor syntax (maybe the gas tax should fund teaching English), that's nothing short of comedy gold.

We'll break off on that note -- too much other news to write about today -- but we'll get to the seriously misleading stuff in the insert over the next day or so. Meanwhile, let's all consider how much this huge p.r. effort is costing the city, and whether it's worth it. It appears that the gas tax boost is on its way, come hell or high water; in that light, this campaign seems more about spinning it, to limit political damage to someone or other. It's not hard to guess who.

Comments (16)

He's got to push this quick since Bush only has a year left to be the scapegoat.

I am NOT a Bush fan, but when Adams and Bluemenhauer say Bush is the worse thing to happen to infra-structure and they need a gas tax to fix it, they neglect a couple of things:
1) I don't recall Bush vetoing a spending bill
2) They seem to build light rail just fine under Bush.

Sam is so proud of hitting up Earl for transit money, why cant he hit him up for a couple of pennies for road repairs?

For a cost-effective, highly creative, uniquely alternative and nontraditional solution to the problem of kids getting muddy on their way to school, see the Rose City Park Elementary solution.

How many miles of sidewalks could have been built for the $28,000 per linear foot spent on the the Eastbank Esplanade?

How many miles of streets could have been paved for what we spent on trolleys?

How many natural gas powered buses could have been purchased by Tri-Met with the money spend on MAX?

Does anybody believe that providing a sidewalk for kids to walk on is a priority for Sam Adams? Maybe the kids should form a union, or join a PAC.

****How many miles of sidewalks could have been built for the $28,000 per linear foot spent on the the Eastbank Esplanade?*****

I don't know. Do you? Now the Esplanade funding came mostly from Federal funds that can't be used for sidewalk repair and funds from the Central Eastside Urban Renewal District. Now Urban renewal funds could be spent in the District. And if there was no Urban renewal district some additional general funds would have been available for Police or Fire or Parks or fixing sidewalks. How much? I don't know why don't you do the hard work and tell us. To make it easy you can assume that all Urban Renewal funds soent on the Esplanade could have been spent paving streets. Quite a bit of construction I would guess.

*****How many miles of streets could have been paved for what we spent on trolleys?****

Now streetcars are funded by TriMet, street car fares, city parking revenue, and a special property tax assessed on properties near the line. Now the the Trimet funds can only be spent on the bus and street car system. If there are no streetcars there are no street car fares. Ditto on the local property tax probably. I don't know if the parking meter revenues can be spent paving streets. Maybe. Why don't you call PDOT and find out how much Parking Meter revenue goes to the street car, whether it could be spent on paving streets, and how much street construction it would pay for.

*****How many natural gas powered buses could have been purchased by Tri-Met with the money spend on MAX?*****

Good question. And I would feel better answering it if I didn't think your real position on this is that the money shouldn't be spent on mass transit at all but rather on freeways. And spent on surburban freways at tha. So if you prefer buses over freeways write back and tell us.

Greg C

I can hardly wait for the far east side edition of this nonsense to arrive in this week's Gresham Outlook. I can already smell another end run around the voters to raise some taxes with the usual totally ignored "public input".

Now streetcars are funded by TriMet, street car fares, city parking revenue, and a special property tax assessed on properties near the line.

And urban renewal funds, which all property owners in the city pay. And a general fund subsidy.

$10 million in federal gas tax dollars, restricted to transportation, were spent on the Esplanade.

Greg C:

If they can figure out how to build an Aerial Tram with (in part) federal transportation funds, do you really believe those same dollars couldn't be used to improve streets and build the adjoining sidewalks?

If they can build skateparks and guarantee theater construction loans, they could certainly put some local tax dollars into real infrastructure.

Remember: it's for the CHILDREN!

Fisking!

now i know what it's called. i've been guilty of that myself sometimes.

The Northwest Examiner also included this 4 page "Transportation Report" that is really just another political plug for more taxes. Who paid for it? I wonder if Gary Blackmer can find out for us? And was it done legally? We really ought to know who's paying the bill for this.

Actually the real question here isn't whether, if they wanted to, the local pols couldn't divert more money from Urban Renewal, downtown taxes, or street car funding to streets and sidewalks. Of course they could. Rather the question is how much of the cost of building and maintaining Portland streets would be covered by such a diversion. And what, of all the things created with Urban Renewal funds over the years, we would be willing to do without. The Tram sure. The Eastside Esplanade, probably. The Convention Center, maybe? Waterfront Park? Pioneer Place? Nordstroms Downtown? Meier & Frank Downtown?

I guess I was objecting to Mister T's jumping in with a few arguable "boondoggles" without a showing that foregoing them would actually pay for the streets and sidewalks the City needs. (Especially the MAX and bus analogy. We're going to use MAX funds to pave streets in Lents instead?)

Greg C

We're going to use MAX funds to pave streets in Lents instead?

Why not? Couldnt we have used the Federal transportation money for fixing streets instead of building light rail?

The people running the city cant handle that though...building trains gets them points with their buddies, and gets Portland on the lips of salivating urban planners everywhere.
Showing pictures of Lents wouldnt do that (with or without paved streets).
Unfortunately, when all that publicity gets people moving here, they find they cant afford to live in the trendy places with the fancy restaurants and trains. They end up living in an apartment in Lents.

*****Why not? Couldnt we have used the Federal transportation money for fixing streets instead of building light rail?*****

I don't know. Which is precisely my point. Offer answers instead of throwing out questions the answers to which you don't know. Because by doing so you imply they're a solution when in fact you may be just wasting bandwith and further confusing the discussion.

Unless of course that's exactly what you're trying to do.

Greg C

Ps. I suppose that now means I have to track down all the answers when I was trying to get Mr. T to do so before lobbing his bombs.

Prior to adding sidewalks, children walk to school in mud or the street.

I didn't realize they hired kids for such hard labor.

Offer answers instead of throwing out questions the answers to which you don't know

Huh?

Your rambling is starting to sound like Tenskwatawa's...

...when in fact you may be just wasting bandwith and further confusing the discussion.

Who better to make that judgement than experts on the subject like Greg C?


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